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Chicago union pushes progressive politics

Chicago Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) recently announced that it will financially back mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia – instead of incumbent mayor Lori Lightfoot – with a $1 million commitment.

This pledge will triple Garcia’s campaign fund up to about $1.6 million. IUOE Local 150 is the tenth-largest union associated with AFL-CIO.

IUOE Local 150 spokesman Ed Maher told local media that the union’s political backing is due to the out-of-control “lawlessness” in the Windy City. “This overall perception of this city — with residents, with folks across the state and across the country — that Chicago has turned into the Wild West,” Maher said, “Between the reality of crime and the perception of safety in the city, private sector development has really dried up.”

It is unclear whether IUOE’s political donations come from membership dues.

The union’s investment in political campaigns is not new; it previously backed other candidates seeking to unseat entrenched incumbents, though no recent candidates won their races.

Its 2011 mayoral candidate, Gery Chico, lost to Rahm Emanuel by a commanding margin in the double digits. In this year’s Cook County assessor election, the union spent $1 million to back Kari Steele, who lost in the party primary election to incumbent Fritz Kaegi by a wide margin.

IUOE Local 150’s tactics come from the same playbook as major political parties, where activists on the extremes spend money in primaries to challenge moderate incumbents, such as the progressive Justice Democrats or populist Save America political action committee. Other labor unions use similar tactics, such as the SEIU’s $1 million donation to then-candidate for Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass, to push their specific political agendas in party primaries. Bass defeated a moderate Democrat candidate in the mayoral primaries..

Progressive union activists create political divisions within their rank-and-file members. Their tactics, such as funding insurgent candidates to hold incumbents accountable, often ignore the opinions and beliefs of unions’ moderate and conservative members.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.